Urgent measures are needed to conserve mangrove forests, which have been rapidly disappearing in the past few decades, experts said at a forum organized recently in Ca Mau province.

Mangrove forests develop in shallow water, such as in gulfs and estuaries sheltered by capes, narrow straits or along coasts protected by archipelagos.

Although they account for a small part of Vietnam's forests, they provide an important role in the preservation and protection of coastal and estuarine regions, habitat provision, storm protection, erosion control and carbon sequestration, said Phan Huy Thong, Director of the National Agriculture Extension Centre.

Mangrove forests are present in 20 provinces and cities in the country, mostly in the south, and have diverse species, Thong told participants at the forum which was organised by the centre and the Ca Mau Province Department of Agriculture and Rural Development on July 25.

Mangroves in 1943 covered 408,500ha but due to aquaculture and urban development, the country has lost nearly 60 percent of its mangrove forest over the last 70 years, to only 166,000ha now, he said.

"Coastal erosion and higher levels of sea water caused by climate change have contributed to mangrove forest reduction," said Nhu Van Ky, an expert of the Vietnam Administration of Forestry's Department of Forest Development.

In addition, poor management as well as a lack of coordination among relevant agencies are to blame.

Also, localities have no policies to encourage residents as well as local communities to take part in mangrove protection, he said.

Tran Thanh Cao, Vice Director of the Forest Science Institute of South Vietnam, said: "Besides technical measures, such as applying GIS (Geography Information System) to collect, store and monitor forest, local authorities should have measures to replant mangroves, with afforestation techniques suited to different areas."

Forest sanitation, including moving out fallen trees, was also needed to improve forest quality, he said.

In its forestry development strategy to cope with climate change, the country plans to have 330,000ha of mangrove and coastal protective forests by 2015 and 500,000ha by 2020, Thong said.

"To realise the targets, comprehensive measures must be applied, from re-zoning plans for mangrove forests to new policies related to plantation, protection, and development of mangrove forests," he said.

Local governments and agencies must work to raise awareness among residents about the importance of protection of mangrove forests, he said.

They should also be taught correct exploitation techniques that contribute to the sustainability of the forest.

Close linkages between enterprises and communities in the forest should be developed so that businesses ensure outlets for forest products, he added.

Currently, many farmers earn a good income from breeding shrimp and crab and bees under the forest shadow, Thong said, adding that localities should conduct research studies to expand these successful models to raise residents' incomes, thus limiting deforestation.

Tran Van Thuc, Deputy Director of Ca Mau provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which has the largest forest area in the country with 72,909ha, said the province would complete allocation of forest land as well as the granting of forest land-use rights to organisations and households so they can invest long-term in forestry production.

The province is also calling on all economic sectors to invest in mangrove protection and development, as well as processing and consumption of forest products, he said.

With wise management, the rich resources that the mangrove ecosystem offers could be of great assistance to the development of livelihoods for local communities, participants at the forum said.-VNA